Holiday Eating

Dear Sharon, There’s a recent and needed emphasis on healthy eating. My 12-year-old son is a junk food junkie and with the impending holidays, I worry about his food choices. We’re trying to keep him off sugar as much as possible, as well as the processed foods. There is great temptation and availability of bad foods throughout the holidays and my dilemma is how to control outside influences during these heavy eating periods. Any ideas?

A concerned Mom

Dear Mom,

Unfortunately many 12 year olds are junk food junkies. Processed and sugared foods are readily available, can give a quick energy boost, and often taste really good to a hungry pre teen.

Sugar and processed foods can also be addictive. Junior high school age children are often battling the stress of an increasing academic workload, juggling peer pressures on many confusing fronts, coping with raging hormones, and possibly contemplating romantic relationships. With all that and more on a 12 year old’s plate it can seem hard to cut back on what might seem like a relatively benign junk food addiction.

Add the seemingly endless holiday festivities and you are right to be concerned.

Here are some ideas that might help:

1.Probably the most efficient way to control outside influences is to host as many holiday activities as you can. You will have control over the food served as well as the tone of the celebration. Becoming the home that teens and pre teens visit often is a wonderful way to get to know your son’s friends and keep an eye on all his activities – eating habits included.

2. Build on holiday recipes your son already likes. You might be able to reduce the amount of sugar and add more of the natural flavorings like sweet-tasting spices or applesauce. You could also try using unprocessed or organic sugars like honey, brown rice syrup or turbinado. Gingerbread and oatmeal cookies are usually lower in sugar than other varieties and a simple cake topped with strawberries or other fruit and whipping cream is sometimes well received. If he is willing to help out get some new ideas from him as well. (Asking an adolescent for his thoughts often can help resolve potential points of friction.)

3. If possible try and make sure your son starts his holiday mornings with a good breakfast (I know easier said than done for some 12 year olds). This may cut down or at least balance out his more sugary temptations later on in the day.

4. See if you can incorporate a variety of activities into your family’s holiday traditions. Craft projects and indoor and outdoor games with a holiday theme can be a good substitute for cakes and candy. Let your friends and family know not to bring sweets as gifts and of course you should follow suit as well.

5. As you have much less control over what your son eats when he is not at home, talk to other parents and school personnel about your thoughts about healthy eating. Sometimes one parent can get everyone working together to curb habits that are a concern to many.

6. We unfortunately cannot always guide age-old traditions and the eating habits of the people around us. Sometimes discussions about junk food at this time of year produce tension between family members. Power battles about “forbidden fruit” can even back fire and increase the problem. It is very important to remember that holidays are important celebratory times for families. They can provide a break from our everyday routines and give parents and children an opportunity to have fun, relax and express their love for one another. Such good times can create long-term memories that strengthen relationships, improve communication and build self-esteem. If the topic of junk food is taking away from quality family time I often suggest that parents let some poor eating habits go and come back to the issue again when the season has passed. Your son might appreciate your willingness to temporarily bend on the topic and be more receptive in the new year.

Thanks for asking about this all-important topic, happy holidays!